On YouTube (and elsewhere on the Internet), the N-word is spewed like never before

Cover of "The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who...

Cover via Amazon

Around the United States today, newspapers have glowing tributes to civil rights pioneer Dorothy Irene Height, who passed away at age 98. The Washington Post calls Height “the founding matriarch of (the) U.S. civil rights movement,” while the New York Times labels Height “the grande dame of the civil rights era and its unsung heroine.” Go to a web site called niggermania.net, and Height is called “the old ape,” “old negress,” and “old coon” – all under a headline that reads, “Nice! (N-word) rights activist Dorothy Height beez dayed!”

The First Amendment protects that web site. Its name is allowable. Its hateful words are allowable. Its members can visit today and do what they’ve done every day since the web site began: Go public with their contempt for black people. On the web site (which is apparently run by a man in Arizona), President Obama and his wife are vilified with the most scurrilous language on the Internet. That’s no surprise. What is surprising is that  similar invective can be found on more mainstream web sites, including YouTube, where Obama is called the N-word countless times by people who want to advertise their racism to as many people as possible. It doesn’t stop with Obama. A few months ago on YouTube, I was watching Louis Armstrong performWhat a Wonderful World” and in the comments section, one person called Armstrong “a jolly (N-word).” Go to the same video now, and on the first page of comments are scatological references and the observation that Armstrong “is a chimp.”

In the 1950s, this sort of language was the hallmark of overt racism. It still is – but YouTube and other web sites give readers the ability to hide behind their anonymity. While newspapers debate how to tame hateful comments, a new media outlet that went online today – the Honolulu City Beat – is banning anonymous comments. YouTube, meanwhile, relies on a kind of self-policing. Officially, YouTube has a policy that prohibits “hate speech,” including “speech which attacks or demeans a group based on race or ethnic origin,” but as YouTube spokeswoman Mandy Albanese told me via email, “With 24 hours of video uploaded to the site every minute, you can imagine why we can’t prescreen the content or police the comments. We rely on our community members to flag inappropriate videos and report abusive comments when they see them.”

With so many abusive comments, it’s apparently impossible to stanch them all – and the courts have usually sided with people’s right to offend. On Tuesday, the same day that Dorothy Irene Height died, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protected animal snuff videos. Hate speech has its limits, though. Two months ago, the North Dakota Supreme Court heard a case involving a white teenager girl’s use of the N-word. According to testimony, the teen uttered the word repeatedly in a verbal attack on a black teenage girl. The white teen’s lawyer said her language was protected by the First Amendment. The North Dakota Supreme Court disagreed, citing a legal precedent that “fighting words” – i.e., words deliberately used to incite hatred – cannot be used with complete impunity.

In his book, “The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, And Why,” Jabari Asim says a series of events have shepherded its continued use. In the mid-1990s, for example, the O.J. Simpson trial – and policeman Mark Fuhrman’s employment of the word – kept it alive in a widespread news context. Today, the word is used in public like never before. There’s no escape – not for a Congressman like John Lewis, and not for anyone hoping to see a joyful Louis Armstrong on YouTube.

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9 Responses to On YouTube (and elsewhere on the Internet), the N-word is spewed like never before

  1. scottchaffee says:

    There are now 6.8 billion people inhabiting this world. Any guess as to how many are twisted, bitter a-holes? I’m thinking 8-10%. Mommy didn’t love them or some such. Now they seek personal relevance in hatred and the spreading of same. Targeting others is a brief respite from the self loathing that drives them.

  2. Bill Jenkins says:

    Don’t pick up any hip hop CD’s or you will have to write about how offended you heard the word NIGGER 250 times in 10 tracks.

    • ford says:

      as a matter of semantics, i would argue that there’s a difference between hip-hop and rap. there tends to be a lot less profanity and hate speech in hip hop.

      it’s worth noting that your view of the entirety of a genre of music, by the way, is that it revolves around the use of that word. i’m pretty sure that’s the kind of ignorance that spreads the obsession with spewing the n-word.

  3. vladimirlogvinov says:

    Has it evere occured to you that people who are shouting out loud about rasism in media and courts are the rasists too? So much moise about single word. Maybe they should try to rename one african country http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigeria beacause of her name.
    So it seems from Russia. In russian language there is a word “negr” for african people, that doesn’t have any negative and rasist context (there was no slavery in Russia, and numbers of native african people is always was extremly low in Russia) and beacause of that people who are trying to force term “afroamerican”(or arforussian) to be used instead of “negr” are completly retarded by common folks.
    But there is a very similar problem in Russia about using some very rasist terms about folks from Kavkaz region – and hatred it is…It’s shameful.
    P.S. sorry for my bad grammar.

  4. Pingback: On YouTube (and elsewhere on the Internet), the N-word is spewed … - internet

  5. leonkelly says:

    Go ‘head. Call me a mick. I’ll kick your ass!

    • vladimirlogvinov says:

      Go visit Russia – if you sick of discrimination. Nobody here will call you “mick”, because there are no negative stereotypes about irish folk in Russia 🙂

  6. artguerrilla says:

    do you believe in free speech or not ? ? ?
    a simple test that many (most?) pwogs fail all the time… it is shameful how many progressives do NOT believe in free speech…
    the ‘bad’ (sic) results of free speech are predictable, please stop the mock-shock…
    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy

  7. Brian Beach says:

    Jonathan Curiel: Thanks for publishing this! I have been fighting these people for about two years now since they targeted my videos. I made five videos in regards to these god awful people and their nonsense.

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